Between the Devil and Desire(Scoundrels of St. James,Book 2)(24) by Lorraine Heath
For some reason, he preferred it when she was brisk with him. Maybe it was the spunk that he liked or the relief that it indicated she favored him not at all. It could prove unfortunate if an easy camaraderie developed between them. While she was no doubt aware they were not equals on one level, he was acutely aware they were not equals on many.
“They are my clocks. They are listed on page seven of my ledger. I told the servants to distribute them all over the house, however they wished.”
“A collection cannot be a collection if it’s spread hither and yon.”
“I don’t give a damn about the bloody clocks. I care about my damned whiskey! Besides, their infernal ticking was driving me mad.” Maybe they’d done the same thing to the duke, only they’d succeeded where he was concerned.
Jack inhaled a deep breath to rein in his temper, but it failed to work because it only served to bring her fragrance forward so he could smell it more deeply. He didn’t want her enticing him. He wanted her married.
“Let’s get to business, shall we?” He strode over to his desk and sat in his chair.
She hesitated before squaring her shoulders and marching over to take a chair opposite him. If he were a lesser man, her glare would have been intimidating. She certainly was determined to hold her own against him. He had to give her credit for that—that and the fact she cared so much for her son.
“Let me be honest—” he began.
“Are you implying you’ve not been up to this point? In my world, Mr. Dodger, a person is assumed to be speaking honestly, so his words need no clarification.”
“Duchess, you do try my patience,” he ground out.
“Then send me and my son to the country.”
He wasn’t half tempted. “Not on your life.”
“It would make things easier all the way around.”
“I find ‘easy’ boring. Therefore, back to the matter at hand. At my club, I have more than two dozen people in my employ. I manage them and my business without a great deal of bother. As a matter of fact, my business is run quite effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, I know nothing at all about managing a household.”
He watched as a subtle shifting in her expression took place, and he realized he may have given too much away and in so doing, granted her power he was not willing to relinquish.
“Whereas I,” she stated with a calm reserve that caused everything within him to tighten, “know everything about managing a household.”
“I thought you might. Therefore, I’ll leave the management of the household to your discretion.”
She smiled and it was the most mesmerizing thing he’d ever seen. It transformed her into someone who was young and carefree. It made him want to skim his thumb over her mouth. It made him want to get up, circle the desk, and take her in his arms.
“Not. On. Your. Life.”
The want and desire crashed around him. Had she somehow managed to read his thoughts? “I beg your pardon?”
She rose with all the confidence of a woman who had just inherited an empire. “I will not manage the household.”
She turned on her heel and headed for the door.
“Then you’re welcome to warm my bed.”
Even as Jack threw out the challenge, he wasn’t certain what had possessed him to offer that alternative, although it certainly had appeal. If she brought half as much fire to his bed as she brought to her words, he thought they might have an incredible and unforgettable night.
Very slowly, she turned around. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m not a man with a charitable bent. Today, you have a roof over your head, clothes on your person, and food in your belly. The roof and the food are mine, the clothes are still questionable as I’ve yet to locate them in my ledger. You’re taking from me, Duchess, without giving anything in return. To let it continue is a poor business practice. If you wish to remain in residence, you must earn your keep.”
“Earn my keep? As though I’m a servant or, worse, your whore?” She felt the fury shimmering through her. “You are a bastard.”
“According to the law, yes.”
“How can you be so callous? I’ve just lost my husband, my home, and, for all legal purposes, my son. Have you no kindness in you at all?”
“There is no profit to be made in kindness.”
“Is that all you care about? Your gains?”
Jack cursed harshly beneath his breath. Why was she making this so damned difficult?
She’d angled her head accusingly as though she could intimidate him into changing his stance. Her hair was a rich brown with just enough red in it to make it interesting. He wondered what she’d look like dressed in red. Black made her appear too pale. But red, or purple, a deep purple—like royalty…
He shook his head. He never envisioned women in clothes—imagined them out of them but not in them. What was wrong with him?
The door clicked open to reveal the butler. Because the library was large, with several sitting areas arranged between the door and the desk, it took a few seconds for Brittles to cross the expanse, his footsteps eerily silent. It made Jack suspicious, the way the servants moved around so quietly. It wasn’t natural unless a person intended to rob someone.
Brittles stood at attention until Jack looked at him, then he bowed slightly. “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir, but an Inspector Swindler from Scotland Yard wishes to speak with you. Are you home?”
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